How diversity of background influences team dynamics

 Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Diversity brings greater variety in thinking, more exchange of information and more challenging of the status quo.

When people ask whether having women in leadership roles improves governance and decision-making, the answer is yes - but perhaps not for the reasons many of us may think.

It’s tempting to infer it’s because women bring different and special qualities like strong interpersonal skills or higher levels of warmth. These messages often come from well-meaning advocates of more women in leadership. They’re common among advertisers too. For example, one global media company shares its ‘insights’ on the ‘emotional economy’ with this forecast: ‘Female traits such as emotional intelligence, empathy, vulnerability and intuition will be the future drivers of business.’ 

Only thing is they’re not female traits, they’re human traits. It’s a flawed cognitive shortcut that reinforces gender stereotypes. Men can bring empathy and vulnerability when they’re supported to challenge gender norms and biases.

Studies examining sex differences about people's ways of thinking and behaviour find no differences between men and women; rather it is socialisation that plays an enormous part in perpetuating gender stereotypes. It is these stereotypes about the idea of differences that actually means women are continuing to be held back, specifically in leadership roles.

“Context explains any sex differences that exist in the workplace” write Catherine H. Tinsley and Robin J Ely in their recent Harvard Business Review article (May-June 2018). “What most people get wrong about men and women: Research shows the sexes aren’t so different”. 

They write that: “Beliefs in sex differences have staying power partly because they uphold conventional gender norms, preserve the gender status quo, and require no upheaval of existing organisational practices or work arrangements. But they are also the path of least resistance for our brains.” 

So, how exactly does diversity of background and thinking make a difference to team dynamics – whether in the boardroom, in small businesses, or on the customer front-line?

Essentially, it comes down to how we process information and solve problems, according to organisational scientists and psychologists. “When we hear dissent from someone who is different from us,” writes Professor Katherine W Phillips from Columbia Business School in Scientific American,“it provokes more thought than when it comes from someone who looks like us.” 

Phillips says "when members of a group notice that they are socially different from one another, they change their expectations. They anticipate differences of opinion and perspective. They assume they will need to work harder to come to a consensus. Diversity jolts us into cognitive action in ways that homogeneity simply does not.” Put simply, the benefits of diversity of background such as gender and culture come from the way team anticipate and deal with different view and alternative perspectives.

Gender, cultural and other visible forms of diversity are a key way of getting the cognitive jolt for better decision-making.

 When set up with the right foundations – including minimising unconscious biases that can distort reasoning - diversity brings greater variety in thinking, more exchange of information and more challenging of the status quo. That’s when new ideas emerge, and potentially unethical practices are more likely to be questioned.

Gender, cultural and other visible forms of diversity are a key way of getting the cognitive jolt or ‘informational diversity’ teams need to reduce the risks of an executive echo-chamber and improve decision-making




Getting diversity on the radar

If there’s one website most of us rely on daily, it’s the Bureau of Meteorology. The Bureau provides information, forecasts, services and research relating to weather, climate and water to Australians everywhere.

The Bureau has a proud history – it has been in operation for more than 100 years - and today employs around 1,600 staff to deliver these essential services.

Historically, the Bureau has been a male-dominated organisation. During the 1970s and 1980s, historian David Day observed the Bureau aspired to ‘strict impartiality’ between male and female applicants. But few women held leadership positions, and proposals for women to take on observer roles at weather stations were met with resistance.  

Fast forward to 2018 and a concerted effort to progress gender equality and diversity, led by the CEO and executive team, has seen some impressive steps forward.

This follows an extensive diagnostic process Diversity Partners led for the Bureau at the beginning of 2017. Through interviews, focus groups, and data analysis, we identified ways to accelerate progress towards gender equality. 

We talked to people at all levels across all states, and reviewed pipelines for hiring and succession to come up with key actions – some immediate, some longer-term.  We then worked closely with key stakeholders to develop the Bureau’s Gender Equality Plan, launched in October 2017, and Diversity & Inclusion Commitment. 

Since then, as part of an implementation phase, the Bureau has held workshops for leaders and provided resources for hiring managers to recruit fairly and objectively. It's now closer to that ‘strict impartiality’ in hiring and promotion processes, as awareness of. unconscious bias is much higher.

The results are encouraging. At the beginning of 2017, as we began the diagnostic process, the gender composition of the Bureau’s workforce was 30% females. It’s now 34%.

The percentage of women in senior leadership (SES and EL2U) increased from 28% (as at June 2017) to 31% (June 2018) and the percentage of women in STEM is up from 26% to 28%.

The Bureau’s Diversity & Inclusion Statement is a key component of the Gender Equality Action Plan and is now visibly displayed in head office and regional offices throughout the country.

‘The Bureau strives to be the model of an inclusive culture where diversity of thought and background is valued. This provides better outcomes for our people, customers and the Australian community.’

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The statement has four key commitments:

·       developing and promoting an equitable, respectful and inclusive workplace culture where our people are engaged, are valued for their uniqueness and feel they belong; 

·       bringing together people with different backgrounds and ways of thinking, which helps drive better decision-making, innovation and overall performance; 

·       ensuring we recruit from the broadest talent pool, reflective of our customers and the communities with which we work; and 

·       supporting the use of flexible work arrangements at all levels to enable our people to balance their personal and professional commitments. 

The Bureau of Meteorology's progress shows what can be achieved when a comprehensive and rigorous approach is taken, involving everyone from senior leaders and front-line employees. It shows the value of setting metrics and conducting regular reviews. 

And it highlights the importance of connecting diversity and inclusion efforts to the values, services and customers of one of Australia’s most important organisations.


Source: David Day, The Weather Watchers: 100 Years of the Bureau of Meteorology, 2007.

Diversity & Inclusion Matters - latest newsletter

Here's our latest newsletter (August 2018) featuring tips on ways organisations can refresh talent management policies and practices with a diversity and inclusion lens. We've put together ten ways leaders can show diversity of thought and background is valued and encouraged.

You'll also see a range of engagements we’ve been undertaking to progress diversity and inclusion in firms of all sizes.

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Gender bias in everyday interactions

We often share examples - in our blogs and leader workshops -  of how unconscious bias and gender stereotypes impact recruitment choices and general business decisions. In this blog, we take a look at the impact on meeting interactions, through an example that will be familiar to many of us.

When there's only one woman in a meeting, it's not uncommon to hear a male leader say, 'I'd better not say something crass here because (insert woman's name) is in the room.' Sometimes a leader will apologise to the woman for swearing. 

We know leaders generally mean well when they make these comments. They've probably heard it themselves many times in their careers and consider it nothing more than light-hearted banter.

But the comments can have a negative impact, because the person singled out feels uncomfortable, not part of the in-group. And it reinforces the stereotype that men and women are different and should interact in certain ways. Those stereotypes actually perpetuate gender inequality in the workplace.

We were recently asked by a female leader how best to respond in these situations, and suggested she might try saying something like this after the meeting:

"I know you mean well, but it’s uncomfortable for me when you single me out with the comment ‘I don’t want to say something crass because (insert name's) here’. It reinforces stereotypes about how men and women should interact, and that's not helpful for gender equality at work. I’d prefer we use language that's respectful of each other, and that'll help all of us work better together."

Each time we sensitively make someone aware of unconscious bias and gender stereotyping, we’re taking a step forward for diversity.

This is along the lines of the golden rules of giving feedback effectively: ‘When you … I feel … I’d prefer … the impact is …’

Some people will think this is political correctness taken to extremes, but eliminating everyday sexism is a commitment by male business leaders of some of our biggest organisations in Australia.

"We have to get better at responding to behaviour that is unhelpful and excludes people," their recent report 'We Set the Tone' says. "And we need to own what we say and take full responsibility for the consequences of our words and conduct. The same goes for our silence and inaction."

There's many outstanding recommendations in the report from the Male Champions of Change. One really resonated when we shared it recently with the LinkedIn community: reframe a discussion when an employee or candidate is assessed as ‘too’ anything – ‘too bossy’, ‘too soft’. ‘too emotional’.

It's not easy, but each time we sensitively make someone aware of unconscious bias and gender stereotyping, we’re taking a step forward for diversity and gender equality in particular.

We'd love to hear other ideas or ways to frame these types of conversations. 

 Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Diversity matters to Australia’s media and marketing industry

Australia’s advertising, media and marketing industry is starting to take diversity and inclusion very seriously. 

That’s largely because brands are grappling with how to represent themselves in an increasingly fragmented and diverse market. 

At the same time, more and more companies recognise how important it is to attract and retain a diverse workforce and create inclusive work environments where people feel they can speak up, be creative, and do great work.

Diversity of thinking and diversity of background contributes to creativity, the DNA of media and marketing firms.

 Dr Katie Spearritt at the Media + Marketing Summit, July 2018

Dr Katie Spearritt at the Media + Marketing Summit, July 2018

When it comes to diversity, we often hear about the media campaigns that go awry. There’s a long history of ads that objectify women or miss the mark on representing Australia’s cultural diversity. 

Yet there are some smart campaigns that challenge gender stereotypes and embrace inclusion.

SBS currently features a digital campaign, ‘The real you matters’, which explores how some Australians hide an essential part of who they are out of fear of being excluded or judged. Retailer Woolworths has a television campaign with Dad carrying the domestic load, making lunches and grocery shopping.

These are signs of progress in reflecting, and representing, diversity and inclusion.

Diversity of thinking and diversity of background contributes to creativity, the DNA of media and marketing firms.
— Dr Katie Spearritt


But advertisers and media specialists are human and prone to making decisions influenced by unconscious biases, as we all are. 

Psychologists and behavioural economists have shown one of the key barriers to diversity progress in organisations is unconscious bias. 

Even though we like to think we always apply logic and reason in our decision-making, implicit or unconscious attitudes or stereotypes (based on our life experiences and backgrounds) affect our understanding, actions, and decisions.

The reality is we all have these biases so ingrained we hardly notice them - that’s why they’re called unconscious or implicit.

Ironically, the marketing industry uses unconscious bias to great effect. 

For example, anchoring is a cognitive bias when we rely too heavily on an initial piece of information (the anchor). You might know this as the technique behind sales tags showing the higher recommended price next to the sale price. 

Marketers deploy affinity bias when showing all the other people in our network who like a certain product/experience. Indeed, the whole of social media is built around confirmation bias – how we search for, or recall, information that confirms our beliefs.

But here’s the rub. While the industry deploys these biases to help influence purchasing decisions, these same types of unconscious biases hold organisations back when trying to reach diverse consumers and progress diversity in our own firms.

Take affinity bias and confirmation bias, for example. Working with people from different backgrounds can be hard because we naturally gravitate to people who are like us, and we like to have our views confirmed. This can lead us to overlook candidates from diverse backgrounds, or discredit alternative views, or miss opportunities to reach diverse customers.

Unconscious gender biases, for example, are particularly entrenched and easily influence decisions if we’re not alert to them. We expect women to show warmth, and men to show assertiveness and competence. Our notions of leadership are associated with assertiveness and competence – in other words, masculine stereotypes. In workplaces, someone who behaves in a way that’s inconsistent with these stereotypes is less likely to be hired, according to experts Professor Binna Kandola and Jo Kandola.

What’s important – for internal organisation cultures and external marketing campaigns – is to get the tone and language right, avoid stereotypes, and represent the diversity of Australia’s community.

If you work in the media and marketing industry, here's two ideas to try now:

1.    Apply a diversity and inclusion lens to the way you pitch to consumers. Think about the language used and any stereotypes you might be inadvertently promoting.

2.    Apply a diversity and inclusion lens to your organisation’s processes (such as recruitment, succession planning) and challenge unconscious biases that inhibit diversity

Just as marketers and agencies have effectively deployed unconscious bias to influence buyer decisions, now’s the time to recognise and challenge unconscious biases and stereotypes that get in the way of diversity and inclusion progress.

The likely upshot is more creativity and greater customer reach and, in this industry, who wouldn’t want that?


(This is an edited version of the keynote speech by Dr Katie Spearritt to the AdNews Media and Marketing Summit in Melbourne, July 2018. Dr Katie Spearritt is CEO of Diversity Partners. Diversity Partners is collaborating with Future Women, a new digital media platform, to advance gender equality with individuals and organisations.)



What do inclusive leaders actually do?

We hear a lot about inclusive leadership these days, and understand that leaders want tangible ideas and examples to help bring the concept to life. 

So we've put together ten small ways leaders can signal diversity of thought and background is valued, respected, and encouraged. 

While these behaviours may seem small, they have a huge impact on team members. And they expand on simply offering praise for a job well done (though that's really important too).

They validate the contributions of others, create psychological safety, and avoid blindspots in our thinking. All of this helps people flourish, work better together, and generate new ideas and solutions for the business.

The list draws on examples shared by leaders in our Inclusive Leadership workshops as well as research on ways to harness inclusion in the workplace.

You might like to reflect on which actions you do well, and which ones you can fine-tune to help people feel less like a number and more like a valued contributor. As we listed these, a number resonated for me as ways I can strengthen my own leadership and team-building skills.

As you read them, you might also like to keep in mind the description from diversity advocate, Verna Myers,  'Diversity is being invited to the party; Inclusion is being asked to dance'.

 Inclusive leaders invite people in   Photo: Getty Images

Inclusive leaders invite people in 

Photo: Getty Images

  1. 'When we're making a big decision, I try to seek out lots of different perspectives to generate new ideas and plan for different scenarios.'
  2. 'I explicitly invite my direct reports to offer an alternative viewpoint to mine in meetings.'
  3. 'I let people know it's okay to take risks, learn, and share those mistakes.'
  4. 'I wait till everyone else has had their say before I share my view, to avoid the risk of thought cascades and groupthink.'
  5. 'I try to rein in my automatic defensiveness when someone challenges my preferred way - but it's not easy!'
  6. 'I try to stay alert to unconscious biases like affinity bias and priming so we don't inadvertently exclude people in the group.'
  7. 'I make an effort to acknowledge everyone in the office, and give someone my full attention when they're talking with me'.
  8. 'It sounds simple, but I ask for the correct pronunciation of an unfamiliar name and try to get it right.'
  9. 'I've been taking an interest in the nonwork lives of people, especially those not in my usual ‘in-group.'
  10. 'I've asked the team about their preferred ways to collaborate and stay up to date, rather than assuming a one-hour weekly meeting and Friday night drinks (which we've always done) is the best way.'


Through our leadership development programs (workshops and coaching), we explore these and many other tangible ways to improve inclusion and diversity progress in organisations, and the positive impact they have on individuals, teams, and business results.

We look at how unconscious biases inadvertently reinforce exclusion in the workplace and how reducing them helps create a sense of belonging and engagement. Our approach is underpinned by the notion the ‘privilege of oblivion’ leads to awareness deficits in how we lead.

For more information on our Inclusive Leadership programs, please call Dr Katie Spearritt or Anna Carter in our office on: 1800 571 999 or email:

‘Our Inclusive Leadership workshop approach is underpinned by the notion the ‘privilege of oblivion’ leads to awareness deficits in how we lead and interact with others. So we have to actively invite different perspectives and approaches.’
— Dr Katie Spearritt, CEO, Diversity Partners
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Backward climbing up the diversity and inclusion mountain in Australia

It’s not surprising those of us deeply involved in driving diversity progress sometimes feel disheartened about the pace of change in our workplaces.

But I’ve come to recognise this happens mostly when I focus my attention at the top of my (aspirational) mountain - a gender-balanced, culturally diverse, flexible and inclusive workplace achieved through systemic change efforts.

Instead, looking at what’s been achieved so far – ‘backward-climbing’ up the mountain, so to speak - leaves me more motivated and optimistic about making a difference. It’s a technique I’m learning to apply more generally when feeling overwhelmed and dispirited.

That’s why we’ve chosen in this blog to feature some of the positive developments in diversity and inclusion over the past decade - the same decade in which a formal apology to Australia’s indigenous peoples was made, Australia’s parliament legislated for marriage equality, and the iPhone transformed our economy and society.

Gender diversity has obviously become a mainstream business issue for public and private sector organisations, spurred on by ASX Corporate Governance Guidelines introduced in 2010 requiring listed entities to formally report their diversity initiatives to the public or state the reason why no disclosure has been made. 

Company boards are significantly more gender diverse. The percentage of women on boards of ASX 200 listed companies grew from 8.3 per cent in 2009 to 26.2 per cent in 2018. 

Currently 84 ASX 200 companies have reached the target set by Australian Institute of Company Directors of achieving 30 per cent female representation across ASX 200 boards by the end of 2018.

Gender diversity has become a mainstream business issue for public and private sector organisations.

The pipeline for executive and board positions is growing too. Between 2014 and 2017, the proportion of women in management ranks (in organisations reporting to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency) edged upwards from 35.9 per cent to 38.4 per cent.

The proportion of women in the labour force now stands at 47 per cent. This has been steadily increasing from 36 per cent in 1978.

'A meaningful shift towards female employment in the male dominated sectors' was noted by Westpac economists in June 2018. This is significant, because Australia has long had one of the more highly segregated labour forces compared to other OECD countries, and achieving gender representation throughout the workforce in all industries and occupations is key to addressing the gender pay gap.

Notwithstanding the major concern of gender pay inequity in Australia, data released the Workplace Gender Equality Agency in November 2017 showed a notable 10.8 percentage point rise from the previous year in the proportion of employers analysing their remuneration data for gender pay gaps. 

And of course the #MeToo movement has given added impetus worldwide to stamping out inappropriate workplace behaviours and unequal practices, and creating greater psychological safety in our workplaces.

 Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

The Australian workforce has also changed in its age make-up. For the first time in history, four, and in some cases five, generations are working side by side.

We’ve seen a broad increase in participation among Australians in their 50s and 60s, particularly over the past decade. This is encouraging because it shows we're overcoming stereotypes of older workers as less motivated or resistant to change, as well as providing opportunities for older people who need and/or choose to prolong their workforce participation. 

For the first time in history, four, and in some cases five, generations are working side by side.

Cultural diversity is a rapidly growing area of focus among corporates, with groups such as the Asian-Australian Lawyers Association and Leadership Council of Cultural Diversity (bringing together chief executives from business, government, media and higher education) providing visible advocacy. Since being launched in 2012, more than 200 organisations – from the business, sports, education, local government and community sectors – have signed on as supporters of the national anti-racism campaign, ‘Racism. It Stops with Me’. 

Underpinning many diversity efforts is a shift to make flexible work practices the norm. More and more of us use technology to work in an agile and innovative way. Several large firms offer ‘all roles flex’, shaking up long-held assumptions that jobs need to be full-time and based at an office or company site. Nearly 70 per cent of organisations reporting to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency have a policy or strategy for flexible working. 

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 30 per cent of Australian employees worked from home in 2016, a 10 per cent increase since 2001. Most encouragingly, we've seen a significant growth in men opting for flexible working programs. The ABS says the amount to dads choosing to take up flexible working hours increased to 30 per cent in 2017, which is almost double what it was in 1996. 

This is a major step in reducing gender inequality in the workplace because it supports a fairer split of caring and work responsibilities and reduces some of the subtle advantages men enjoy from employers anticipating they won't take time off or work flexibly.

Access to paid parental leave has also improved over the decade. Australia's first national Paid Parental Leave scheme was introduced on 1 January 2011, providing two payments – Parental Leave Pay and Dad and Partner Pay (including adopting parents and same-sex couples). In addition to the Federal Government's paid parental leave scheme, 46 per cent of organisations reporting to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency provide primary carer's leave and 39 per cent provide secondary carer's leave.

More than one million Australian workers are now able to take leave and enjoy other protections because of domestic violence clauses in their workplace agreement or award conditions (as of 2016).

The past decade has also seen significant developments for people with disability. In 2008 Australia ratified the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and today organisations such as the Australian Network on Disability provide outstanding resources and benchmarks so organisations can better meet the needs of customers and employees with disability.

We've also seen a marked growth in Pride Inclusion programs assisting Australian organisations with the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) employees. This year, 12 organisations were awarded Gold Employer status at the Australian LGBTI Inclusion Awards.

Particularly notable was the shift in the industry make-up of top award winners, previously dominated by companies in financial and professional services. Gold Employer winners included EY, AGL Energy, the Australian Taxation Office, Brisbane City Council, Clayton Utz, RMIT, and Woolworths. EY - one of the first large companies to voice support for marriage equality in 2017 - noted the value of awareness training and education programs when it was named the most inclusive employer at the 2018 Pride in Diversity Awards.

There are many other encouraging signs of change. Numerous organisations have embedded unconscious bias and inclusive leadership education in leadership curriculums. Many have undertaken substantial diagnostics to understand their diversity challenges and opportunities and refreshed talent management processes to reduce the potential for unconscious bias. Many have set targets that extend beyond demographic markers to broader measures of inclusion tracked through engagement surveys.

Numerous organisations have embedded unconscious bias and inclusive leadership education in their leadership curriculum and undertaken substantial diagnostics to understand their company's inclusion challenges and opportunities to bolster performance. 

Of course, there’s so much more to do to press for progress and each one of us can do our bit. As leaders, at the very least, we can practice ‘micro-affirmations’, the term coined by Professor Mary Rowe of Massachusetts Institute of Technology to describe ‘tiny acts of opening doors to opportunity, gestures of inclusion and caring, and graceful acts of listening’.

As leaders we can practice 'micro-affirmations' - ‘tiny acts of opening doors to opportunity, gestures of inclusion and caring, and graceful acts of listening’. 

This might be as simple as actively seeking out diverse views in your meetings or considering where and when team meetings and social events are held to avoid inadvertent exclusion. There's many other actions we can take to lead inclusively and support diversity.

But today’s about recognising the progress we’re all making as we climb the mountain, step by step, to create more inclusive workplaces that benefit everyone and lift performance. As PwC Chief Executive Officer Luke Sayers recently said, diversity is key to a successful workplace: 'The more diverse the thinking, the more diverse the experiences, the better the outcome.'


Choosing a credible partner to support your diversity and inclusion goals

Many companies now recognise that progressing their diversity and inclusion goals may require specialist support along the way. But how do you choose a credible external partner?

It helps if you can first articulate what you're trying to achieve, and why that's important to your organisation. For example, are you wanting to encourage diversity of thought to lift innovation? Is gender-balanced and culturally diverse leadership important to reflect your customers?

We recognise that identifying those objectives is not always straightforward either, and engaging a consultancy can help at this early stage.

We know you want to be confident about the quality, credibility, and experience of the consultancy you choose as your D & I partner, so we've put together some questions you might like to ask prospective consulting firms to get the best outcome from your investment.

Some are about experience in developing strategies and embedding inclusion; others are about approaches to leadership development.

Questions to ask potential partners - developing strategies and embedding inclusion

1. What skills and experience does your consultancy offer to support diversity, foster inclusion and reduce bias in organisational cultures?

2. What is your consultancy’s evidence-based knowledge of the business case for diversity and inclusion and global best-practice, particularly relating to creating strategic linkages with business strategy and objectives?

3. What practical experience do your consultants have in embedding strategic programs of work for diversity and inclusion across a range of organisation types and sizes? 

4. What’s your experience in identifying diversity challenges and organisational biases? What analytical methodologies do you use? 

5. How do you go about developing a customised strategy to progress diversity and inclusion?

6. What are the types of diversity and inclusion-related cultural challenges and opportunities you typically identify? Does this differ across industries and what have the impacts of your previously recommended client strategies been for their business?

7. What’s your experience in navigating organisational resistance to diversity and inclusion efforts?

8. What tools do you offer to build the capability of leaders in making diversity and inclusion part of the overall business culture and how do you know these work? 

Questions to ask potential partners - leadership development

Helping leaders to build awareness and skills to lead inclusively and challenging bias requires facilitators who are experienced in dealing sensitively with the range of issues usually raised in discussions about diversity and inclusion in companies. It's important that, along with a passion or interest in the topic, facilitators have skills to lead meaningful conversations and encourage participants  to reflect on their responses and behaviours in real time.

You might have someone in the company who's passionate about safety, but that doesn't automatically make them an effective facilitator to influence leadership mindsets and behaviours. It's the same for diversity and inclusion. 

 Along with a passion or interest in the topic, it's important facilitators have skills to lead meaningful conversations and encourage participants to reflect on their responses and behaviours in real time.

Along with a passion or interest in the topic, it's important facilitators have skills to lead meaningful conversations and encourage participants to reflect on their responses and behaviours in real time.

Some questions you might like to ask potential partners are:

1. How do you apply adult learning concepts in the design and delivery of your workshops?

2. What learning outcomes do you aim for in your workshops and how do you know you’ve achieved this?

3. How do you facilitate open and meaningful conversations about diversity, particularly with participants who may be resistant to the concepts being discussed?

4. How do you handle questions that may be sensitive for some in the group? Can you give examples of when this has occurred and what your response has been?

5. How do you recommend organisations cement learnings beyond the workshop?

6. What tools do you use to coach leaders to build inclusive leadership capability?

If you'd like more information about the types of services provided by Diversity Partners, please contact us at or call our office on 1800 571 999.

We're partnering with Future Women in support of gender equality

We're very excited to be partnering with Future Women, a new multi-media platform supporting gender equality. As well as being a hub for quality journalism and insights, the aim is to become a destination where members can connect and learn from each other.

With the team from Future Women, we're creating FW Academy -  a digital resource hub for organisations committed to diversity. FW Academy will bring smart practical tips, challenging insights, case studies and consulting support to help turn words to action. 

FW Academy will draw on our team's experience over the past decade working with more than 200 organisations, setting inclusion strategies, educating thousands of leaders on unconscious bias and flexible work, and reinvigorating talent management policies to accelerate diversity progress. 

Future Women recently featured an interview with our CEO, Dr Katie Spearritt. You can read more about the partnership and FW Academy here.

You can sign up to Future Women now and start enjoying access to newsletters and news about forthcoming events.

 Diversity Partners is collaborating with Future Women, a new multi-medium platform supporting gender equality in Australia.

Diversity Partners is collaborating with Future Women, a new multi-medium platform supporting gender equality in Australia.

Rethinking recruitment

Patty McCord, Netflix's former head of talent, was recently in Australia talking about overturning traditional approaches to recruitment and diversity was a key underpinning of her message.

Instead of thinking about the person we want to hire, McCord says a better approach is to think about the problem you want to solve. This approach helps us move beyond hiring the same people over and over again who are like us (called affinity bias) and become more receptive to different opinions and perspectives. It helps meet the diversity of customer needs too.

 Are you really hiring the best person for the job? Rethink recruitment to access talent from diverse talent pools.  Photo: Getty Images

Are you really hiring the best person for the job? Rethink recruitment to access talent from diverse talent pools.

Photo: Getty Images

There's another reason why we think rethinking recruitment to focus on the problem needing to be solved, as McCord recommends, is important. The benefit of this approach is that it helps us avoid associations with the current incumbent.

Given that the gender of the person currently doing the role will influence who is seen as most suitable for it, as business psychologists such as Professor Binna Kandola have shown, it's all too easy to overlook candidates from different backgrounds.


McCord is also well known for highlighting the risks of hiring for 'cultural fit', as she stated in Harvard Business Review earlier this year. 

'What most people really mean when they say someone is a good fit culturally is that he or she is someone they’d like to have a beer with. But people with all sorts of personalities can be great at the job you need done. This misguided hiring strategy can also contribute to a company’s lack of diversity, since very often the people we enjoy hanging out with have backgrounds much like our own.’

Like McCord, we think it's important to challenge affinity bias, as well as other biases that can impact hiring such as halo effect, confirmation bias and priming. Going a step further, we recommend hiring managers understand implicit gender and cultural stereotyping that inhibits diversity in organisations.

That's why we've created workshops for hiring managers (and recruitment specialists) and a leader conversation guide called 'Recruiting Fairly and Objectively: Challenging Unconscious Bias in Recruitment'. 

In our two-hour workshops, leaders learn several ways to promote diversity and reduce bias in each stage of the recruitment process, from the decision to search internally or externally, job advertising, shortlisting, interviewing to on-boarding. 

We explain the value of de-identifying CVs, avoiding gendered language, advertising in diverse channels, clear selection criteria and consistency of process.

As many of us know, too much hiring manager discretion increases the potential for subjectivity, inconsistency and bias.

We think it's also important to include an 'inclusion competency' in job and selection criteria. This aligns with broader company efforts to promote inclusion in leadership behaviours, practices and policies.

To assess a candidate's inclusion competency, you might ask for example:

  • Have you worked with others from diverse backgrounds and with different experiences? What were the challenges and benefits of that diversity?
  • How have you handled a situation when a colleague or a direct report was not accepting of others’ background, values, or experiences?
  • Can you share examples of how you've encouraged different perspectives in your team meetings in the past?

All of these techniques offer a way to rethink recruitment more rigorously and objectively, and advance diversity and inclusion progress in organisations more generally. And that brings a range of benefits such as increased innovation, better problem solving, and access to broader talent pools.

If you'd like more information about our recruitment workshops, conversation guide, or would like to chat about your company's particular needs, please call us on 1800 571 999 or email We'd love to hear from you.


Supporting inclusive workplaces in Queensland: interview with Leith Mitchell

This week we talk with Leith Mitchell, our Brisbane-based Senior Consultant. Over the past three years, Leith has worked closely with a range of clients including Bank of Queensland, BHP Coal, Dominos, Ergon, Rio Tinto, Downer Group, Powerlink, Unity Water and QSuper to support their diversity progress.

Leith has a background in professional services and, prior to joining Diversity Partners, managed global diversity initiatives focused on gender and people with disability for IBM.

Leith, what do you most enjoy about the work you do?


'I like partnering with clients who understand there’s a mix of solutions required to support inclusion and diversity. Getting quick wins are important. But it's fantastic to have the opportunity to co-design and implement improvements to systems, processes, and structures for long-term positive change.

'I’ve also enjoyed conducting research for diversity diagnostics and facilitating inclusive leadership and unconscious bias programs for leadership teams in quite diverse industries such as financial services, water resources, and mining.

'I particularly enjoy working with clients who are focused on inclusion; how to be strategic around inclusion, how to understand the different stages of inclusion from initially feeling welcome in the workplace to cultivating a real sense of belonging; how leaders and managers build capability on creating high levels of psychological safety, and how to practically measure inclusion.'

Can you share an example of a client who’s made particular progress to improve diversity and inclusion?

'It’s been inspiring to work closely with QSuper, a superannuation firm moving beyond the traditional one-size-fits-all approach to superannuation to a much more personalised approach towards investments, education and access to advice, to help members reach financial wellbeing. Tuning into the different needs of employees and members is key to their performance, and we were able to recommend ways to do this effectively through our diagnostic and strategy engagements. 

'QSuper has a number of leading initiatives including specific support and advice for women to counteract the difference in women and men’s superannuation. The organisation also has a three-year partnership with domestic violence hotline, DVConnect – the leading state-wide crisis response service.'

Are there any particular opportunities for Queensland-based firms to take a leading role in promoting change?

'Unfortunately, Queensland trails the rest of the country in terms of women’s pay, leadership, flexible work and gender equality policies (WGEA, 2017). Queensland businesses have the lowest proportion of female company directors or chairwomen compared to all other states of Australia.

'This presents an opportunity for CEO’s and senior leaders in Queensland to communicate why a diverse workforce and inclusive work environment is critical to the business, and steps leaders can take to help people feel a sense of belonging at work. The head offices of a number of Australian firms are based here, and it's great to see some of them really lifting their focus on inclusion and diversity.'

Good diversity practices improve ethical resilience

Recruiting people from diverse backgrounds, with ideas that question the status quo, can change an organisation for the better.

Leading and sustaining a successful and ethical business can be a complex game. For some people, it is made all the more (seemingly) complex by bringing together individuals with different backgrounds and perspectives.

However, we now know that well-managed, diverse teams lead to greater benefits for a business, including more innovation and creativity. Some organisations are still connecting the dots in understanding the impact that good diversity practices – which should encompass inclusive behaviours and understanding of unconscious bias – can have on improving ethical decision-making and corporate governance.

Gender diverse boards perform better

According to a 2010 Australian study of 849 directors on more than 100 boards in Australia and New Zealand, board members on gender-diverse boards believe they add more value than male-dominated boards through the quality of their decision-making.

They also believe that directors on gender-diverse boards act with greater integrity and require better documentation of roles and responsibilities.

In addition, several studies have shown that gender diversity on boards brings fresh thinking, increased focus on problem-solving and greater transparency.

It’s tempting to infer that the reason for this higher emphasis on integrity is because women bring ‘different’ and ‘special’ qualities. But that’s one of those flawed cognitive shortcuts that do more damage than good.

What really counts is the different dynamics that characterise gender-diverse boards, rather than women perceiving matters differently from men.

As organisations begin to extend their diversity focus – from inherent diversity (traits such as gender and ethnicity) to inclusive leadership that encourages diversity of thinking – we start to appreciate the positive impact this can have on business ethics.

Learn from mistakes: BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill

In 2011, one year after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I joined a global facilitation team for BP’s newly formed Diversity & Inclusion program. As a result of this crisis, and following a range of independent studies on the situation, it became clear that decision-making biases and the lack of a ‘speak-up’ culture about safety issues were factors that contributed to the disaster.

I say kudos to BP for its subsequent commitment to ensuring its leaders act with greater awareness of core values such as safety, respect and courage.

Although we’re all susceptible to forces that make us ignore risks, leaders at all levels of an organisation can take steps that will encourage diversity of thought and potentially reduce ethical risk.

How to promote diversity

1. Be aware of cognitive biases

We all have biases, but we’re often not aware of them. Psychologists and behavioural economists have highlighted many biases that impair our ability to make objective and effective decisions.

2. Give teams express permission to disagree with you

Some leaders appoint a ‘devil’s advocate’ in meetings to encourage multiple perspectives. One CEO we know routinely tells colleagues “you have an obligation to disagree with me”.

3. Engage team members from outside your regular circle

Inclusive leaders make a real effort to understand the experiences of people who are not part of their tight-knit in-group. Where you hold meetings and who gets invited can make a significant difference.

4. Invite Team members to put their Opinions first

This is a simple leadership tactic to avoid ‘priming’ or ‘framing’ bias – when we unconsciously ‘plant’ ideas.

5. Actively measure Diversity

Track gender, cultural and age diversity as indicators of how your organisation is leveraging different perspectives. Use surveys to track employee perceptions of being able to speak up and contribute to decision-making.

6. Openly support diversity and inclusion

Our experience with companies in Australia supports global research that shows leadership teams which have a highly visible commitment to diversity and inclusion are more likely to make significant diversity progress.

*This article first appeared in the Australian Institute of Managers (AIM) 'Leadership Matters' publication.

 Diversity of thinking contributes to ethical resilience.

Diversity of thinking contributes to ethical resilience.

Helping organisations progress diversity and inclusion through rigorous research

‘If it wasn’t for your guidance, we wouldn’t have achieved half of what we have.’

 Conducting rigorous research is key to developing tailored diversity and inclusion strategies for Australian and global firms, says Dr Katie Spearritt.

Conducting rigorous research is key to developing tailored diversity and inclusion strategies for Australian and global firms, says Dr Katie Spearritt.

It’s messages like this in our inbox this morning that keeps the DP team energised to deliver rigorous research and targeted diversity and inclusion strategies.

Over the past decade, we’ve provided research and strategy guidance to progress diversity and inclusion for many medium to large organisations and government agencies.

Here's some examples of clients that have engaged us to undertake diversity and inclusion research and detailed strategy development, by sector:

  • Financial services: NAB, Westpac, Commonwealth Bank, Suncorp, Bank of Queensland, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, QSuper, Telstra Super, ME Bank.
  • Legal sector: Maddocks, Lander & Rogers
  • Resources/infrastructure/engineering: Transurban, Anglo American, BHP, Rio Tinto, Oilsearch, Golder Associates, Energy Australia, Powerlink (NZ)
  • Medical/pharmaceutical: Boston Scientific, GSK.
  • Public sector agencies and departments: Bureau of Meteorology, Victorian Dept of Education, Melbourne Water, Environment Protection Australia, Unity Water, South East Water, Water Services Association of Australia.
  • Information technology: Computershare, Xero
  • Digital Media: Dentsu Aegis Network

Our research methodology draws on global diversity and inclusion benchmarks, Australian gender equality reporting frameworks, and our team's practical experience working in diversity leadership roles for, and with, large Australian firms over many years. 

Each company we work with has particular diversity challenges and opportunities. And many different commercial and performance objectives.

That's why we work hard to apply the most effective solutions that add value to employees, customers and other shareholders. The outcome for our clients is a carefully crafted strategy that sets a clear direction for achieving success on their diversity and inclusion objectives.

And that's why receiving feedback about the impact of our recommendations is always uplifting. 

To learn more about our approach to confidential diagnostic research and strategy development, please click here, or contact us at

Tips for creating an inclusive culture: webinar recording

In this recent webinar, Dr. Katie Spearritt, CEO of Diversity Partners, and Lindsay Evans, General Manager of Product and Legal Counsel at Learning Seat by Litmos, discuss the importance of creating an inclusive culture in the workplace.

There's a range of practical take-aways for business leaders, HR leaders, and diversity practitioners to achieve more diverse and inclusive workplaces.

You'll learn more about the concepts of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and why it's really important for Australian and global organisations to focus on both diversity and inclusion to achieve the benefits of diversity, such as greater innovation and improved performance.


Diversity - The differences that each individual can bring, from culture, background and ethnicity to age, experience and perspectives.

Inclusion - The sense of belonging when people feel their workplace culture actively encourages different views and perspectives.



Katie shares  four foundations to achieving progress, including:

  1. Building a consistent understanding among your leaders and employees of what diversity and inclusion mean.
  2. Leading by example from the top.
  3. Understanding that change is systemic and needs a comprehensive targeted strategy.
  4. Promoting intentionally inclusive actions, behaviour and language in day to day interactions (when conducting team meetings, when hiring, when engaging customers).

You can access the webinar recording on the Learning Seat by Litmos website here.

Why refreshing talent management policies with a diversity and inclusion lens is important

We've been working with many clients to hard-wire diversity and inclusion in talent policies.  

We systematically review each policy to identify ways to minimise the potential for unconscious bias, attract a diverse candidate pool, and actively seek out leadership candidates with an inclusion competency.

This type of review is important because unconscious biases in organisational processes, systems and cultures often work against creating a level, objective foundation for decision-making. 

 Unconscious biases in organisational processes, systems and cultures often work against creating a level, objective foundation for decision-making.

Unconscious biases in organisational processes, systems and cultures often work against creating a level, objective foundation for decision-making.

While we all like to think we recruit the ‘right person for the role’ solely on merit, the reality is that recruitment and promotion processes can lead to what we call an 'orthodoxy of talent' because of the impact of affinity bias and confirmation bias, among other types of unconscious bias.

Unconscious bias plays out in a number of ways. It's particularly challenging because this type of bias is implicit or unconscious - that is, we're often not aware of it.

And while it's important to educate leaders on ways they can personally challenge unconscious bias through leadership development programs, it's equally important to review existing policies and practices. Making these types of changes strengthens the opportunity for positive cultural change. As Harvard professor and behavioral economist Iris Bohnet explains, '’s easier to change your processes than your people'.

When we review policies, we often find that job descriptions capture the attention of, and funnel in, people who think and act in a particular way. Particular words stereotypically associated with men or women (for example, ‘dominant’, ‘determined’, ‘loyal’) influence who applies. As does stating that a role must be done full time rather than flexibly.

Resumes may be put aside because of experience gaps, such as taking time out of the workforce to raise a family.

The gender of the people currently doing the role will influence who is seen as most suitable.

Interviews that don’t follow a structured question template leave room for affinity bias (our preference for people like us) to creep in. And candidates who don’t conform to stereotypes will be less likely to be hired and promoted.

It’s because of these imbalances and biases, identified in many global studies, that we recommend organisations refresh talent management policies to reduce the potential for unconscious bias and actively seek diversity in talent pipelines.

We recently helped one large organisation in the infrastructure sector fine-tune its policies. While the firm has traditionally had a strong and progressive commitment to diversity, we found several opportunities to improve their policies to avoid unconscious biases narrowing their talent pool. In the case study below, we share some recommendations we made.

The upside for the organisation is that leaders are now more likely to attract talented people from diverse backgrounds, and keep them.

We found several opportunities to increase the use of inclusive language and avoid unconscious biases narrowing the talent pool.

Diversity Partners Case Study: Minimising bias in recruitment and HR processes / policies

Client industry: Infrastructure

The brief:

Analyse job descriptions, job advertisements and a wide range of people policies to identify potential areas of bias, increase the use of inclusive language, and widen the pool of potential candidates both applying for roles and successfully being hired.

The outcome:  

The review of both the job description template, as well as ‘live’ leadership roles being advertised online, identified a number of areas where bias could be reduced. Some of our findings included:

·       Inconsistent use of the job description template by recruiting managers, (which can lead to subjective hiring decisions for ‘cultural fit’ against the firm’s culture, skill and experience).

·       A heavy focus on technical capability in the majority of advertised leadership roles, without transparency on what weighting would be given to these skills over relationship or leadership skills (e.g. prerequisite, preferred or critical). This could potentially strike out good talent if hiring managers aren’t clear on the balance.

·       Only some job descriptions included an explicit mention of the company’s commitment to diversity, as well as the requirement of leaders to foster inclusion in their teams. We recommended this be added to all job descriptions, as well as mention of the firm’s commitment to a flexible working environment.

·       Wording such as ‘you’ll be required to manage a busy schedule and have to accommodate change and adjust arrangements accordingly’ was repeated in several position descriptions. This wording could deter candidates who have caring responsibilities or other out-of-work requirements from applying. Our recommendation was to modify wording to include a reference to flexible working options.

·       Several instances of gendered language in job descriptions, including terms such as ‘The role will require agility and the ability to think and perform based on competing demands and pressures’. An alternative was recommended: ‘The role will require agility in thinking to manage various elements such as timelines, budgets and stakeholder relationships’.

These are just a few of the recommendations we made to improve the use of inclusive language and reduce the potential for unconscious bias across all talent management policies.

If you’d like us to undertake a review of your policies, drawing on our learning from many recent client engagements and global best practice, please call us or email to talk through your needs. 

Building our team capability - welcoming Grazia Pecoraro

We talk a lot about building leader capability with our clients, and over the past year we've been building our own team capability and diversity of background.

Grazia Pecoraro joined Diversity Partners last year, bringing years of corporate experience in leading diversity and inclusion initiatives, a background in communications, and plenty of energy to the job.

 Grazia Pecoraro

Grazia Pecoraro

Based in Sydney, Grazia has already delivered a range of solutions to help our clients achieve diversity progress.

As well as working across the broad diversity and inclusion agenda, Grazia’s specialties are in strategy development, implementation of flexible working practices, and initiatives to support people with disability.

We asked Grazia a few questions about her background and commitment to diversity and inclusion.

What led you to work in the diversity and inclusion space?

Growing up in South Africa during the height of the Apartheid era and living with a sight impairment of being legally blind without my glasses, has heightened my awareness of difference, identity and inclusion (and left me with a life-long quirk of referring to traffic lights as ‘robots’!). My background is in Communications, Reputation Management and Public Relations and I started out my career working for clients such as Apple, Microsoft, IBM and Cisco in South Africa and Australia.

FIve years after working in Westpac Group as an Internal Communications Manager, I volunteered for the then-new ABLE Employee Action Group that champions inclusion for people with disability. That was almost six years ago and I can truly say that every day I learn something new in this space as there are so many intersecting facets relating to human behaviour, change and beliefs.


What are you most enjoying about working with the DP team?

Being part of the Diversity Partners team has allowed me to get a broader diversity of experience - our clients span multiple industries, sectors and range in size.

I’ve already worked on projects for clients in emergency services, environment support, infrastructure, marketing, pharmaceutical, healthcare and energy. It’s fantastic to access a ‘hive mind’ of consultants with a range of experiences and thinking styles, so our clients get the best outcomes possible.

Joining a consultancy with an outstanding reputation, excellent practices and a number of innovative inclusion products has meant that I can focus on what I’m passionate about – delivering meaningful diversity outcomes to a broad range of organisations so that collectively, we shape and change Australia for the better.


What were some of the highlights of your career at Westpac?

There were many standout moments but for me these are the ones I reflect on most often:

·      Winning Gail Kelly’s Westpac CEO Award in 2010 for my work in championing sustainability and environmental initiatives in our business including bringing Keep Cups into all internal cafes.

·      Being selected as a Jawun business mentoring participant and spending 5 weeks supporting Aboriginal communities in Cape York.

·      Accepting the 2016 Australian Human Rights Award on behalf of Westpac for the leading-edge, ‘intuitively inclusive and accessible’ design of the new Barangaroo Campus in Sydney.

·      Winning the 2013 Australian Government’s National Disability Award for programs such as the Breaking Down the Barriers training I’d developed with Westpac’s ABLE Employee Action Group.

·      Rolling out programs of work to support the bank's aspirational target of having 50% of women in leadership by 2017.


If you’d like to speak with us about ways we can help your organization progress diversity, please contact us at and we’ll organise a call with you. 

Flexing your approach to flexible work arrangements

Three factors distinguish leading workplaces committed to supporting flexible work practices.

Many companies are working hard to normalise flexible working, as more and more Australians use technology to work in an agile and innovative way. Telstra, PwC, Origin Energy, and ANZ among others promote ‘all roles flex’ to shake long-held assumptions that jobs need to be full-time and based at an office or company site.


Numerous research studies show a markedly positive impact on productivity and employee engagement when companies offer flexible work arrangements. An IBM Survey of 675 CIOs and IT managers of large enterprises across multiple industries in Australia, China, India, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States found that on average, those taking action to create a more flexible workplace reported 20%+ improvements in productivity and cost saving.

Employees are more likely to recommend their company as a place to work when they work in companies where flexible work practices are widely used.

For companies that are developing or refreshing their approach to flexible work arrangements, we've found a few key principles make a big difference to acceptance and utilisation of flexibility among the hundreds of client firms we've supported on their diversity journey. 

Three principles can be readily applied across different industries and types of workplaces:

1. ‘Flexibility’ is defined broadly.

It extends to how, when, and where employees work. Arrangements include formal options such as job-sharing or part-time work, changes to start and finish times. Arrangements also include informal, ad-hoc flexibility - usually the most requested type of flexibility - to meet short term needs, and most of these are agreed verbally or via email between the employee and their manager.

2. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis taking into consideration the needs of the business, the team, and any potential impact to clients/customers.

Some roles, by the inherent nature of their tasks, lend themselves to less flexibility. That said, leading firms encourage managers to carefully consider all requests as part of a ‘can-do’ flexibility mind-set, and provide ‘reasonable business grounds’ for any requests declined. In a number of companies, managers who intend to decline requests have to seek approval from Human Resources – an ‘if not, why not’ measure that challenges traditional (albeit surprisingly resilient) assumptions that flexibility is ‘too complicated’ or will ‘set a precedent where everyone will want it’.

3. Decisions are ‘reason neutral’.

This important principle recognises employees have different needs at different times in their lives. Some need flexibility to juggle caring responsibilities, others may want flexibility to pursue a hobby or additional study, for example.

The ‘reason-neutral’ approach also tackles the prevailing bias that flexibility is okay for working mothers, but less so for fathers. While the percentage of fathers using flexible working hours to look after young children has nearly doubled to 30 per cent since 1996), men are twice as likely as women to have requests for flexible hours rejected. A Bain & Co/Chief Executive Women study of more than 1,000 employees across Australian workplaces last year found approximately 60% of men are working, have or want to work flexibly, but there’s still a lack of senior support.


There are many other principles adopted by leading firms outline in our ‘Guiding Principles for effective flexible work practices’. Please email us if you’d like a copy.

Diversity Partners has developed comprehensive toolkits that cover guiding principles, tip sheets, and a four-step framework guiding managers and employees through the process of applying for, and reviewing, flexible work arrangements. We draw on best practices, and customise the toolkits to your business.

We also facilitate 'Making Flexibility Work for Everyone' workshops to help organisations entrench flexible working successfully. We'd love to hear from you if you'd like to talk through your organisation's flexibility strategy, education or policies.





Intentionally inclusive: everyday actions to create more respectful and inclusive workplaces

Being an inclusive leader requires us to understand, and fundamentally challenge, the biases and privileges entrenched in dominant Anglo male work cultures that the #MeToo phenomenon has begun to uncover.

The #MeToo movement has shocked many by highlighting that making harassment illegal, and having policies and training, has not actually made workplaces free from harassment, let alone genuinely inclusive. 

It turns out that introducing anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies is much easier than challenging established practices. As we hear increasing allegations of ‘boys club’ work cultures and ‘lecherous’ behaviour by public figures, we often find that people have known about the behaviour for a long time, but haven’t felt able to challenge it.

Catherine A. McKinnon wrote in the New York Times last week of women alleging sexual harassment, over decades of her research, that ‘even when she was believed, nothing he did to her mattered as much as what would be done to him if his actions against her were taken seriously’. The women’s starting inequality made it hard for them to push for action and change. But, she says, right now, ‘power is paying attention’.

‘Perhaps it takes a moment like this’, as Australian journalist David Leser says, ‘for men to truly wake up.’

In workplaces, it has to be leaders – men and women – who drive greater inclusion. Beyond policy statements, it is a bigger and more challenging goal to create a psychologically safe, inclusive work environment.

How do you make your organisation a place where all employees feel they belong, can speak up about inappropriate behaviour they experience or observe, and feel valued for their unique talents and perspectives?

It doesn’t happen by accident, or through goodwill alone. Being an inclusive leader requires us to understand, and fundamentally challenge, the biases and privileges entrenched in dominant Anglo male work cultures that the #MeToo phenomenon has begun to uncover.

It’s up to all of us to challenge inappropriate behaviour and take action.

Leaders must intentionally choose to be inclusive in how they behave and the decisions they make. If we’re not consciously inclusive, as former Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said, it’s likely we’re unconsciously or unintentionally excluding people.

This matters to organisations because diversity of people, background, opinions and ideas is proven to deliver better decisions and generate breakthrough insights. It’s why so many organisations are actively committing to being more diverse and inclusive.

But it is a challenge. The reality is that all of us can find it demanding to include diverse thinking approaches, or people of different gender or from different backgrounds, in our work activities. 

When people come from differing backgrounds, or put forward a different perspective to ours, it’s often uncomfortable. We naturally gravitate to people who are like us (called affinity bias), and we like to have our views confirmed rather than challenged (confirmation bias). 

In organisations, this plays out in a few well-worn habits. We follow what’s been called the ‘usual suspects bias’ to automatically hire or promote people who are like us, because we feel comfortable with them and trust them to get the job done. Groupthink is generated.

We wind up with ‘mirror-tocracies’, far from the meritocracies we all want, where the best skills and ideas flourish. And we can have workplaces where ‘lad cultures’, ‘pervy’ behaviours, dismissive comments, unconscious bias, and outdated stereotypes prevail.

Taking intentional actions to make your work environment more diverse and inclusive goes well beyond avoiding potentially costly harassment complaints. 


It’s up to all of us to challenge inappropriate behaviour and take action.

For those in leadership roles, here's some ways to practice intentionally inclusive leadership.

·     Invite feedback from peers and team members about your behaviours, so you know if people are feeling consistently included, and so you can adjust if you need to before problems potentially escalate.

·     Recognise personal biases that may impact your decision-making (remember we all have biases).

·     Make a positive effort to learn more about the experiences of people not in the ‘in-group’.

·     Actively seek out diverse views in your meetings – explicitly invite different perspectives, including from people who are usually quiet.

·     Consider where and when team meetings and social events are held, to avoid inadvertently excluding some people. For example, instead of always having team drinks in the evening, mix it up with some morning teas during the week.

·     Challenge stereotypical comments, assumptions, and language. If a woman manager is called ‘aggressive’, is that about her behaviour, or about someone thinking she should be warmer or softer because she is a woman?

·     Ask explicitly for diversity on recruitment shortlists, speaking panel representations, and in succession planning. 

·     Notice and call it out if some people are given nicknames but others aren’t. It’s an everyday way to make some people feel in and others excluded.

·     Provide flexible work options, using changing technologies, to give a more diverse team opportunities to be involved.

·     Talk with your teams about the proven benefits of diversity and an inclusive work culture (some organisations start meetings by highlighting positive examples).

For organisations, it’s also fundamental to refresh recruitment, promotion and other talent management practices that have typically privileged dominant Anglo male cultures in Australia.

Taking intentional actions to make your work environment more diverse and inclusive goes well beyond avoiding potentially costly harassment complaints. Numerous studies show the benefits include better decision-making, higher employee engagement, more innovation, and better financial performance.

What business leader wouldn’t want to achieve that?

New year, new thinking - accelerating progress on diversity

To accelerate diversity and inclusion progress in Australia and New Zealand in 2018, we think it’s important to focus on how your organisation is leveraging diversity of thinking approaches and diversity of background to improve decision-making and organisational performance.

In a recent interview, Dr Katie Spearritt spoke about ways to reduce unconscious biases in decision-making, so we gain the benefits of diversity of thought and background.

Q: Are business leaders getting more serious about diversity of thought?

We’re seeing a growing interest to apply the research on cognitive diversity in the workplace. For example, a CEO of an industry superannuation fund contacted us to explore how bias might be getting in the way of effective decision-making on his team. His team was gender balanced and culturally diverse, and he appreciated the different perspectives that brought.

The CEO wanted to go further, to identify the team's preferred thinking approaches so they could consciously bring different perspectives to decision-making as they launched new products and expanded their market.

 Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

We’re also seeing more and more focus on the importance of diversity of thought for ethical decision-making and corporate governance. 

Groupthink and confirmation bias have contributed to some big ethical failures in history. That’s why one global resources organisation we’ve worked with explicitly advises its leaders to ‘hear from the quietest person in the room’.


Q: Can you share some practical things that leaders can do to encourage different thinking approaches?

Before making a key decision in a meeting, we encourage teams to reflect if they’ve considered a range of different thinking approaches and credible alternatives, as well as unconscious biases that might impact their decision-making.

This usually means consciously slowing down our thinking. ‘Slow thinking’ is a recognised strategy to build inclusive leadership capability, and helps us avoid the error-prone biased decisions that can come from automatic ‘fast thinking’.

Director of St James Ethics Centre, Dr Simon Longstaff, has said ‘the greatest pressure on modern leaders is the absence of time to stop and think’. That’s something we hear time and time again, and it can be helpful for leaders to remember we all have a choice to call a ‘time out’, however brief it might be.

While seeking feedback from others is essential, some leaders go further by appointing a ‘devil’s advocate’ in meetings to normalise challenge. It’s important to rotate the devil’s advocate too.

One CEO we know routinely tells colleagues that ‘you have an obligation to disagree with me’ to reduce confirmation and sunflower bias.

It’s also important to think about basic things such as where you hold meetings and who gets invited. Decision making experts emphasise the importance of hearing from people who are ‘cognitively peripheral’ – who have information that is not generally known – rather than having discussions with people who share similar knowledge. 

As you make a key decision, ask the team if they’ve considered a range of different thinking approaches and credible alternatives, as well as unconscious biases that might impact their decision-making.

That’s why we suggest using different communication channels to receive input on a project or idea. Some team members will probably be more comfortable providing an alternative view in a follow up email or direct phone call rather than in a team meeting.

HR leaders can track employee perceptions of opportunities to contribute to decision-making and speak up through annual or pulse engagement surveys – that’s a valuable contribution to business success.

Q: Do experts on diversity always get it right?

If only! For a start, we’re human so we’re prone to biases just as anyone else is.

Adapting to different thinking and learning styles is challenging for us too.

Recently a client asked us to facilitate a workshop for senior leaders in a range of locations around the world. We were reticent, as our preference is face-to-face learning to build conversations. But we decided to give it a go, asking one of our team members used to working in virtual global operating environments to help us re-design content.

We ended up with some new tools and our client reach has now extended from Melbourne to Mongolia!


Contact Diversity Partners at or phone us on 1800 571 999 if you'd like to talk through ways to progress diversity and inclusion in your firm this year.

To read the original interview with Peoplecorp Recruitment Specialists, please see:

Developing a commercially-responsive Diversity and Inclusion strategy in 2018

In 2017, Diversity Partners undertook 20 diagnostic and strategy engagements to set the course for action to achieve more diverse and inclusive workplaces in Australia and New Zealand. These engagements have been for a range of organisations, including top ASX firms, local subsidiaries of global firms, public sector agencies, and emergency services providers. 

 Setting the course for diversity and inclusion progress needs a methodical approach.

Setting the course for diversity and inclusion progress needs a methodical approach.

We've also reviewed the talent management policies for a number of organisations to reduce the potential for unconscious bias and diversify talent pools.

Here we share five insights from our experiences in co-developing strategies with clients this year.

Five Insights

  1. Developing a diversity and inclusion strategy is an opportunity to clearly articulate how the  selected actions will advance organisational priorities, align with values and behaviours, meet customer needs, and help create the cultural change we all want to see in workplaces.
  2. Among leading organisations, the outcomes typically go beyond achieving certain demographic targets (e.g. percentage of women in leadership) to meaningful measures correlating levels of inclusion with innovation and productivity metrics. For example, resources giant BHP has quantified the benefits, finding that 'our most diverse sites outperform the company average on many measures, such as lower injury rates, and greater adherence to work plans and production targets,' according to CEO Andrew Mackenzie.
  3. A robust D & I strategy is not an easily templated strategy. It's a carefully considered plan that addresses specific organisational challenges and biases, demographic gaps, and policy shortfalls.
  4. Governance matters. It might seem simplistic, but it's really important to spell out who has responsibility for what, including the role of a diversity steering committee if one exists.
  5. Being realistic about plans for year one, two, and three keeps the momentum going.
  6. Linking internal efforts with external efforts (e.g. corporate social responsibility initiatives) helps stakeholders to make deeper connections about the value of diversity and inclusion.

One of our longer-term strategy engagements this year was with the Bureau of Meteorology, resulting in the launch of their Gender Equality Plan in October. Chief Scientist and Group Executive Science & Innovation, Dr Sue Barrell, recently shared her feedback on the partnership:

"We started our journey by engaging Diversity Partners to research challenges and opportunities for us. Their research was extremely thorough, drawing on inputs from hundreds of team members and a range of data points relating to recruitment, retention, flexibility usage, and promotion. From this, we worked with Diversity Partners to develop a comprehensive action plan.
This has been an exemplary partnership and we acknowledge the commitment, professionalism and passion of the team who worked closely with us, our ‘friends’ on this journey."

With the ever-growing focus on diversity and inclusion in the community and in workplaces comes a responsibility to set well-crafted, commercially-savvy strategies with tangible actions and accountability to drive progress. That's a responsibility we take very seriously at Diversity Partners.


Please contact us at if you'd like to discuss ways we can work with you to advance your organisation's diversity and inclusion efforts in 2018.